Artificial sweetener is my vice and I think it is gross
February 14, 2011 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I use artificial sweetener. I think I shouldn't. Help me not.

I'm on a major clean-up-my-act kick in basically every facet of my life, especially in the area of my body. I'm trying to adopt a 'my body is a temple' opinion and I've been really successful so far (losing weight, limiting processed foods, choosing organic when possible, proper sleep habits, etc) but I have one vice I am having trouble kicking - Artificial sweetener. I'm the weirdest person ever, apparently because I prefer the taste of aspartame in my tea and coffee. Perhaps it is because that is what I am used to, or maybe because I like things to be really sweet. I also sometimes drink stuff like Crystal Light. I removed pop from my diet a while ago (unless it is deliciously paired with alcohol) but when I occasionally do drink it I go with a diet version. Again, I prefer the taste. I even use artificial sweetener to sweeten stuff like oatmeal (but never use it for actual baking/cooking). Gross, I know.

I really dislike honey, always have, otherwise that likely would be a good solution. And the cost of 'healthier/natural' artificial sweeteners (oxymoron?) is a deterrent. I've tried not drinking my tea and coffee sweet, but I haven't been able to get used to that.

So convince me to stop using it. I'm looking for hard facts for reasons why it is majorly unhealthy and a bad idea. I know all the usual stuff - chemicals, triggers hunger response so actually worse for dieters, etc - but as yet I haven't been able to kick the habit.
posted by gwenlister to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you taper off slowly, it'll be easier than quitting cold turkey. I used to put almost a quarter cup of sugar in my ice tea, but started cutting down spoonful by spoonful and now drink it black. Some herbal teas (like with hibiscus, I think) have some natural sweetness as well.
posted by The otter lady at 3:48 PM on February 14, 2011

You could try stevia instead. SUUUUPER sweet, the way aspartame is, not so chemical-y. Generally thought safe, and actually improves insulin sensitivity, in rats at least.

When I am trying to kick stuff like this, I try to do the mind trick thing. Maybe tell yourself that it's not food that should go in your body, it's chemicals grown in a lab by a possibly-sinister corporation interested in you NOT being healthy. That would gross me out for sure.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:56 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a well written scientifically based but easy to understand rundown on the different artificial sweeteners and why they are basically the devil...

Search the same site for info on other new 'heathy' sugar alternatives (like agave) - interesting stuff!

I personally find that if I skip anything for 2 weeks I cease to crave it.

Good luck!
posted by nothing too obvious at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I eat the stevia stuff and it rocks. Also has a slight vanilla taste to it. It seems to be pretty darn safe.

Heck you should be trying to drink water instead of soda or even REAL iced tea works also.

If you like dark chocolate then coffee without sugar at all should not be that hard to get used to.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2011

This may not be the most helpful response, but... It might be that the reason you're having a hard time quitting aspartame(*) is that there may not really be a super-compelling reason why you should. The evidence (discussed on the green before) is pretty inconclusive, and seems to suggest that if there are any dangers, they are associated with consuming large quantities of the stuff.

Especially if you're just having a couple of teaspoons a day in your tea/coffee - there doesn't seem to be the sort super-hard evidence you are looking for that it is bad for you.

(On preview - what gilrain said. You can quit because you don't like to eat weird unnatural chemicals, which is certainly a stance a lot of smart, reasonable people take. But you may conversely want to take it easy on yourself for not finding the motivation to quit something that gives you pleasure, and for which there's not super-hard evidence of its being harmful).

(*) I'm assuming aspartame is the sweetener in question, 'cause of your tags.
posted by ManInSuit at 4:07 PM on February 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

So convince me to stop using it. I'm looking for hard facts for reasons why it is majorly unhealthy and a bad idea. I know all the usual stuff - chemicals, triggers hunger response so actually worse for dieters, etc - but as yet I haven't been able to kick the habit.

Well, do you want to be convinced not to use it, or do you want to make a decision based on evidence? Because there's no evidence that aspartame is dangerous. 'It has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than ninety countries worldwide, with FDA officials describing aspartame as "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved" and its safety as "clear cut". The weight of existing scientific evidence indicates that aspartame is safe as a non-nutritive sweetener.'

Despite being safe, for some reason, aspartame has caught the public imagination and the idea that it's dangerous continues to be passed from person to person via conversation, chain letters, etc. Neurologist Dr Steve Novella has a great article about the fact and fiction of aspartame claims on Science Based Medicine.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

So are you totally against regular sugar then? According to the packaging, the one sugar cube I use every morning in my tea is only 10 calories.
posted by maryr at 4:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You say the cost of natural sweeteners is a deterrent. Stevia seems expensive at first glance. I have a 1 ounce container of it here that I paid ten or twelve dollars for -- pretty expensive by weight, sure -- but it's labeled as having 1120 servings, each serving equivalent to a teaspoon of sugar.

That's about a penny per serving. I can't imagine you're using so much sweetener that this would amount to much of an expense.

BTW, if you were to substitute agave, you'll be adding a lot of calories to your diet.
posted by yohko at 4:58 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: I've found that putting a generous amount of milk in my coffee/tea makes it sweet enough. But this only works since I completely cut sugar out of my diet - my "sweet threshold" seems to be lowered and stuff that was only moderately sweet before becomes super-mega-sweet (like pears, orange juice...). Milk tastes like a sweet drink now. Same with plain yoghurt: used to taste sour, now tastes sweet.

Aside from this pleasant side-effect, I think that removing sugar from your diet would contribute more to your health than cutting out aspartame/splenda, which seem to be OK overall, especially in the miniscule amounts you seem to use. The one sweetener that I really try to avoid is maltitol, the stuff often used in "low-carb" sweets and granola bars - it raises my blood sugar just like normal table sugar, gives me diarrhea and tastes like crap. YMMV
posted by The Toad at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011

I like stevia. I think it would be easier to switch to stevia; it's a more similar flavor. However, if you want to convert back to eating sugar, start using 1/2 fake & 1/2 sugar. Then, 100% sugar.
posted by theora55 at 5:13 PM on February 14, 2011

I recommend the tapering off solution. Your palette is just out of whack. Some sweet and some salt is good when it comes to food, it's just a matter of using enough to enhance the flavor of food/drink and not use so much that you're actually masking the flavor of it. You're pretty much at the point where you are masking the flavor of your food and drink.

There was a point in my life where I loaded my coffee and tea up with so much sugar that that was all I could taste. Looking back, I can't even believe I did that but I just didn't know any better. I now drink my coffee black and most of my teas without sweetener. I'd recommend that you cut back in 1/4ths. Start using 1/4 less sweetener for a few weeks until you get to a point where your palatte adjusts and you actually enjoy what you're eating/drinking. Then cut back another 1/4 and so on and so forth. You maybe even come to like black coffee and black tea like I have and maybe not and that's okay. Certain teas are good with just a smidge of sweetener. The thing about drinking coffee and tea black is that you can pick up on the subtle flavors in the different varities.

As far as cost, have you looked into using agave nectar? I have a bottle of light agave nectar that I bought at Wholefoods for about $5 dollars and that bottle is going to last me a long time. At least 6 months I'm sure. Agave nectar is delicious on oatmeal, granola and pretty much anything that requires some sweetness. You can even bake with it.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:16 PM on February 14, 2011

You won't find much hard evidence that it is "majorly unhealthy," because there isn't any -- if there were, it wouldn't be approved by the FDA.

Yea, assuming the FDA is to be trusted. What makes them more qualified than scientists that have studied artificial sweeteners and come to the conclusion that it's bad for you?
posted by Yunani at 5:54 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why not just use sugar? A teaspoon or so in your morning coffee isn't going to kill you (unless you are diabetic and I have poor reading comprehension skills).

If you absolutely can't use sugar in hot drinks, you could also look into steaming your milk. Apparently heating milk to the proper temperature for steaming also breaks down some of the sugars in the milk, rendering it much sweeter than cold milk. This is why it's gauche to put sugar in a cappuccino, and why a latte tastes so much better than just regular coffee with milk in.

As far as beverages - what about just opting for fruit juice instead of diet soda or Crystal Light or whatever? I like to cut the sticky-sweet down even further by going half and half juice and seltzer. It's like gourmet soda.

For oatmeal and the like, maybe maple syrup? The real stuff is a bit of a splurge, but a little goes a long way.
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't know why people think agave nectar is healthy just because it's natural. It has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup, and in my opinion it tastes like despair.
posted by Shoeburyness at 6:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am a diabetic, so most sweeteners are a no-no. I have been using stevia for the last decade and I love it. No calories. All natural. No harmful side effects. However, not all stevias are alike as potency varies. By far the gold standard of great stevia is SweetLeaf liquid stevia. It may look pricy on Amazon, $22 for 8 ounces. But my last 4 ounce bottle lasted me a year and I use it several times a day.

And if you are fiending for a soda, regular soda water, a few drops of stevia, and some extract is delicious. Vanilla or almond soda? So delicious!
posted by munchingzombie at 6:22 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Stevia is good - it can even improve insulin response. Agave nectar, like Shoeburyness said, is 90% fructose which directly causes insilin resistance and fat gain.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:31 PM on February 14, 2011

Try sugar alcohols. They're an entirely natural sweetener big with diabetics and low carbers. Xylitol is my favourite - it has a methol-y cooling effect which is quite splendid, and it actually cleans your teeth!
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 6:31 PM on February 14, 2011

Try sugar alcohols.

They have a laxative effect. Use in moderation.
posted by stevis23 at 6:57 PM on February 14, 2011

It gets a lot easier to avoid over-sweetening your beverages once you get used to not having sweet things all the time. While I was never into artificial sweetener, I used to drink Coke every day, and I couldn't stand coffee unless it was flavored AND had cream and sugar added. Eventually I stopped buying sodas and juices really just to save money, which meant drinking a lot more water, and which has resulted in my now finding Coke horribly sweet. I rarely sweeten my coffee at all anymore either. I don't drink it black, but I only add milk.

Try to stop buying the sweet juices and sodas in the first place, and drink cold water with meals and in general when you get thirsty. Having a pitcher of water (Brita filtered if that helps) in the fridge at all times has made it much more appealing to me, and I'm at the point where I usually don't even want anything else to drink aside from a cup of coffee and/or tea in the morning. If I get a Coke, it's to go with pizza.

With oatmeal, you could try making it with some frozen berries, cinnamon, and grade B maple syrup, if you don't hate that too. Maple syrup is expensive, but a container lasts me a long time because I only use it on oatmeal. Grade B because it has a stronger flavor, so a little goes a long way.
posted by wondermouse at 7:09 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your weight loss has anything to do with combatting insulin resistance, you definitely don't want to switch to agave, honey, maple products, or anything else that's basically sugar.

Another possible line of attack -- I know someone who dropped artificial sweeteners by cultivating a taste for tartness instead -- lemon, lime, etc. Probably not the best coffee solution, but might work for tea?

This is the most persuasive reason I've seen to stop using artificial sweeteners, but I admit it hasn't stopped me.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:27 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: I used to use lots of artificial sweetener - tea, coffee, oatmeal, yogurt, you name it. I just stopped using them, cold turkey, and I switched to regular sugar or nothing. My cravings were uncomfortable, but given some particular circumstances I was actually not able to use them at all, and eventually it passed.

After several months without using them at all, I found that I really dislike the taste of all artificial sweeteners (except diet soda). Now, I do drink diet soda again, but I never put the packets in anything, or buy anything else artificially sweetened. Even if you love the taste now, your tastebuds WILL adjust. And sweet things will taste sweeter as your tastebuds adjust - it used to take me 3 packets of splenda to sweeten a mug of coffee, now 1 tsp of sugar does it.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2011

Yea, assuming the FDA is to be trusted. What makes them more qualified than scientists that have studied artificial sweeteners and come to the conclusion that it's bad for you?

Anybody can write a paper, the FDA has public health to protect. They are motivated to not approve dangerous things. (Everyone can make mistakes, but this particular case probably isn't one of those times.)

The closest thing to dangerous any of these chemicals are is that some of them don't like to get hot, and break down into their constituents.

But as far as chemical danger goes, it is as dangerous as some fruit juices.

So, give it up if you want. But don't feel pressured by "controversy" that isn't there.
posted by gjc at 7:58 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Anecdata: one of the PhD toxicologists that I work with wanted to lose weight, so she bought some Stevia, because she knew that the papers she'd read about aspartame and sugar alcohols made them substances she wanted to avoid. Belatedly realizing that she'd fallen into the "it's natural and a lot of people like it, it must be ok", she did a literature search and found that it, too, had studies that made her want to avoid it.

She decided that instead she would just cut back on sweet in general, and use sugar when she absolutely wanted it (her coffee, mostly). She has been happy with that decision.
posted by ldthomps at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2011

Another thought - switch to soy mild over regular milk. I can't stand using soy milk in my tea because it makes it too sweet, but that might be to your advantage.
posted by maryr at 6:24 PM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! I think I'll give Stevia a try and then try to wean off sugar in general.
posted by gwenlister at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2011

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